US taxpayers could be set to pay for abortions as part of a $160 million federally funded health care plan for Pennsylvania, pro-lifers claim.
The move would spark a fierce quarrel in America – where abortion is a hotly contested issue – and break a White House promise that no federal funds will be used to pay for abortions.
The US Department of Health and Human Services denies that the deal includes payment for abortions, but the wording of the health insurance agreement is unclear.
The agreement says the money does cover “abortions and contraceptives” that are legally allowed under various Pennsylvanian laws.
But then it goes on to say that “elective abortion” will not be covered.
The dispute centres on what is meant by “elective abortion”, and the document offers no definition for the term.
Pro-life campaigners fear that it may only refer to abortions that are carried out because of the sex of the unborn baby.
A press release by the National Right to Life Committee claims: “The cited statute provides only a single circumstance in which an abortion prior to 24 weeks is NOT permitted under the Pennsylvania statute: ‘No abortion which is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child shall be deemed a necessary abortion’.”
The use of federal funds for abortions has been banned since 1976, and earlier this year President Obama signed an order which was supposed to uphold this ban.
But Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvanian congressman, said: “Today, we see exactly why the Executive Order signed by President Obama will not prevent federal funding for elective abortion.
“I’m sad to see my own state of Pennsylvania cover abortion through the new high risk insurance pool.
“This clearly illustrates the need for strong legislative language to prevent federal funding for abortion coverage. Poll after poll shows that the American people don’t want the federal government to subsidize abortion.”
But Melissa Fox, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, defended the agreement, saying: “It was never, ever the intent to cover abortion”.
She added: “We’re trying to work through the confusion.”
And a statement issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, denied that federal funds could be used for elective abortions, and indicated that this would be reiterated through new guidance.
Federal law states that federal funds can only be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest or were the mother’s life is in danger.
The Pennsylvanian health insurance plan is the result of President Obama’s controversial health care bill which was approved earlier this year.
A survey last year revealed that 51 per cent of Americans called themselves pro-life, against 42 per cent who say they are pro-choice.
In January 2009, in one of his first acts as President, President Obama lifted a ban on federal funding for international abortion groups.